Abe meets Putin, agrees to ‘new approach’ in bid to resolve territorial dispute
SOCHI, RUSSIA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Friday to seek to resolve the decades-old territorial row that has barred the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty, renewing efforts via frequent dialogues and closer economic cooperation.
“I have a sense that we are moving toward a breakthrough in the stalled peace treaty negotiations,” Abe told reporters after his three-hour meeting with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The talks included a 30-minute session where the leaders talked one-on-one, according to a Japanese official.
“We agreed to resolve the peace treaty issue by ourselves as we seek to build a future-oriented relationship. We will proceed with the negotiations with a new approach, free of any past ideas,” Abe said, although he did not offer any specifics regarding the path ahead.
The Japanese official said the “new approach” did not mean a change in Japan’s stance to seek resolution on the ownership of the disputed islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan, as well as the Habomai group of islets off Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture.
The disputed islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in August 1945.
As Japan believes only talks between the nations’ leaders can move the territorial issue forward, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Abe and Putin have discussed in their talks concrete dates for Putin’s visit to Japan.
A plan in 2014 for the Russian president to visit Japan was put off after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March that year, souring Russia’s relations with Western countries and Japan.
Abe and Putin also agreed to hold a meeting of senior officials on the territorial dispute in June, Lavrov told reporters following the Abe-Putin talks.
In the meeting, Putin invited Abe to participate in the Eastern Economic Forum to be held in Vladivostok in September, which will bring together business and government representatives to discuss the economic potential and investment opportunities of Russia’s Far East and the Asia-Pacific region.
Abe showed willingness to participate, saying the Japan-Russia cooperation in the Russian Far East is important, according to the Japanese official.
In addition to their meeting in Vladivostok, Abe said he also looks forward to a possibility of meeting Putin in July on the fringes of the Asia-Europe summit in Mongolia, as well as in September at the time of the Group of 20 summit in China and in October during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the official said.
The Japanese leader, with the hope that economic incentives will have a positive effect on the territorial talks, presented to Putin an eight-point plan to forge closer ties, including in areas such as oil and gas production, development of the Russian Far East and construction of medical centers.
The Russian Far East and Siberian regions are areas rich in energy resources that Putin has attached great importance on developing. Japan is interested in energy development with Russia as it looks to reduce its heavy dependence on oil imports from the Middle East.
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